A New Direction

The search is on for someone to head Tucson's growing LGBT community center

Wingspan is about to say so long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen and good night to its executive director.

Kent Burbank, 38, has been at the helm of the local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community center for the past six years, and he said it's time to move on. The Wingspan board of directors recently formed a search committee to fill his position, with an eye on installing a replacement by July, according to Laura Olguin, the committee chair.

Burbank said he's just started searching for a new job himself.

"You know, I'm looking pretty broadly," Burbank said, adding that he'll be staying in Tucson. "There are a number of different areas and positions that interest me. My background is in nonprofit management, and I imagine I will stay somewhat close to that.

"It's actually kind of fun. After working here for six years, it's exciting to be able to think about something new and different--not that this hasn't been exciting or fun."

Olguin said the ideal candidate will have fundraising, development and program experience, with "a solid financial background." A number of people have already submitted applications; they'll be scrutinized, and some will be selected for phone and live interviews. Members of the community will be able to voice their opinions in public forums, with the final hiring decision left to the board of directors.

"We're looking for someone with similar characteristics to Kent," Olguin said. "He's done a wonderful job, and he's going to be hard to replace."

Vicki Gaubeca, a local LGBT activist and a member of the search committee, said she felt "a bit bummed" about Burbank's departure.

"He's been so great to work with," she said. "He really has his heart in the right place, as far as the community's concerned."

Burbank has helped transform Wingspan from a mostly volunteer organization into a potent force for Tucson's LGBTers that employs some 20 staff members and has a budget of about $1.1 million. Still, he's gracious about his role.

"It really has been many, many, many people working on this," he said. "It's not just me, and that's the piece that I guess I'd really like to reiterate and emphasize."

He said one of the most significant accomplishments Wingspan has made during his tenure is developing a greater ability to respond to a range issues as they arise. Wingspan helped the LGBT community deal with the raw grief that bubbled to the surface after the 2002 hate-crime murder of Philip Walsted, a 24-year-old gay man. (See "Hate Crime," Nov. 4, 2004.) They held forums when the owner of Chaffin's Family Restaurant allegedly used anti-gay slurs and threats of violence to drive out a homosexual customer. (See "One Day at Chaffin's," Currents, Feb. 23, 2006.)

Most recently, Wingspan bit back after a thoughtless KGUN Channel 9 investigative report that many thought painted gay men as deviants obsessed with public sex. (See "Bathroom or Bath House?" Currents, Feb. 8.)

During Burbank's tenure, Wingspan has built a number of programs from the ground up. The Eon Youth Program, for example, started as a Saturday support group.

"We now have four or five staff that are working on a variety of issues--everything from fun things, like social activities and leadership development, to more serious issues, like homeless youth," he said.

The Anti-Violence Project widened its focus from domestic violence to include hate crimes, discrimination, harassment and sexual assault. The Southern Arizona Gender Alliance, a program for transgender people, came under Wingspan's umbrella. Wingspan even has a small program for seniors.

"There've been fun projects in the community, too, like the Rainbow Build/Habitat for Humanity house that we did a couple of years ago," he said. "That brought together over 30 groups, doing something that was a wonderful community service project that really built bridges to the wider community."

As employee rolls and programs have grown, so has the need for space. Wingspan went from offices on Fourth Avenue to digs on Sixth Street in the late '90s. The most recent move to 425 E. Seventh St. doubled their square footage, Burbank said, and they've already filled it all.

"It'll hold us for another three years--until the end of this lease," he said. "It's been great. By having more space for community groups to meet in the downstairs area, and then having more office space, it's really, I think, a great resource for the community."

Will Wingspan be moving again in three years? "Oh, God, I hope so," Burbank said. "I'm sure it will."

For a midsized city like Tucson, Wingspan is one of the largest--if not the largest--center of its kind, Burbank said. And it's not hard to imagine that Wingspan is part of the reason why The Advocate just rated Tucson one of the best places for LGBT people to live, even though the magazine inexplicably claimed the city lacks a LGBT community center. (Burbank said The Advocate hasn't responded to a letter he sent them about their error.)

"I really am flattered when people praise my leadership, and it's very kind," he said. "But it really is more of a testament to the community. You know, Wingspan's got a long history--19 years--and it was building and growing long before I came along.

"There's always been an amazing volunteer energy behind Wingspan. This community--Tucson's LGBT community--is more cohesive than most LGBT communities that I've seen anywhere in the country. There's a sense of solidarity and being able to put aside differences and work together."

About The Author

Comments (0)

Add a comment

Add a Comment